Inside a dormitory in the suburban town of Harrow in Greater London, several suitcases lined up around the 15 bunk beds tell a story of their own. The occupants of these beds are mostly students from India and Nepal, while others are from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
They spend most of the time looking into their mobile screens for news updates on lifting travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic so that they can return home. That is the only social distancing they can do as of now with common bathroom, kitchen and other amenities in the dormitory.
From one of the bunk beds, Snehal Patel (23) from Sojitra in Anand district has been fighting fear of contracting the virus. Speaking over phone, he says, “There is evident fear among us all. We are in this crammed dormitory as none of us is able to afford better accomodation. The bathroom, kitchen and hall are shared, the bunk beds are also not exactly the way one can maintain social distancing…”
Patel says that the group of students has been a bundle of nerves after one Indian student died. “He was from South India… he developed symptoms and died shortly after. It caused a lot of panic. So many other Indians have also died. All of us are scared even if we sneeze. It is as though we will die of depression if not the virus. For the past one month, I have been drinking only hot water,” says Patel, who completed his Masters in International Business Management from DeMontfort University in Leicester, and has a family business back home to return to.
Priya Balani (23), who has been in London since September 2018, has completed her Masters in International Business the from the London South Bank University and had changed her return tickets four times. “There’s no word from the government on when they are planning to get us all back,” she says.
Her part-time employment at a retail store helped her gather some savings but she is staring at a possibility of running out of money. “My family is based in Vadodara and my father is a humble businessman. I’m staying with my friend and managing with my last month’s savings… if I have to stay here longer, I’ll have to ask my parents for money…,” she says.
The students have formed a group of Indians who are seeking assistance from the Ministry of External Affairs to return home. Everyday, in several tweets on Twitter and messages, the members of the group, from various parts of India are sharing pictures and messages of the hardships they are facing. With funds, groceries and patience running out, the students have urged immediate action from the government.
Relatives of those stranded abroad are also joining to make representations to the elected members in India. Hiren Panchmatiya, a businessman from Anand Vidyanagar, has approached BJP MP from Anand Mitesh Patel to help reach out to MEA as his 40-year-old doctor wife is stranded in London.
Panchmatiya says, “My wife was in London to be with my sister who delivered her first baby in March… Our 10-year-old twins are separated from their mother… COVID-19 situation in UK is alarming… We are hoping that the government will bring back everyone soon…”
Anand MP Mitesh Patel estimates that about 3,000 people from the district are stranded in UK and the numbers from the state and country could be higher. “I have already sent an email to the MEA and even spoken to the officials seeking action. In our party (BJP) discussions also, I have raised the issue with Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and party state president Jitu Vaghani. I am hopeful that a decision will be taken soon,” Anand MP Mitesh Patel told this newspaper.
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